How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall - review by Joanna Kavenna

Joanna Kavenna

Portraits of the Artists

How to Paint a Dead Man


Faber & Faber 285pp £12.99

This is a novel based on four interwoven lives. In Italy in the early 1960s, Giorgio, a dying painter, contemplates the sacrifices and secret tragedies of his life. His promising pupil, Annette Tambroni, is going blind, yet continues to paint nonetheless. Thirty years later, an English artist, Peter Caldicutt, striding across the Cumbrian fells, falls badly and cannot move. He passes a Walpurgis Night out in the wildness, forced to confront his most disturbing memories. In the present day, Peter’s daughter, Susan, a photographer, struggles to cope with the death of her twin brother. Half-mad with grief, she hurls herself into a desperate affair with a colleague.

Hall supplies each of her characters with a distinctive narrative style: Giorgio’s is leisurely, epigrammatic; Peter’s is energetic and colloquial, even as he writhes on the mountainside (‘Is it a break? Crash injury or open fracture? Oh Christ, is it a partial fucking amputation?’). Susan’s portion is narrated

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RLF - March